There are only 11 teams in NBA history that have overcome a 3-1 deficit and rallied to win a playoff series.
If the Miami Heat can figure out a way to stop the Philadelphia 76ers from running away from them in the fourth quarter, then Erik Spoelstra’s group might have a chance to become the 12th to pull off such a comeback.
Philadelphia’s dominant fourth quarters have been the story in each of the last two games in the series. The Sixers have defended well. The Heat has not.
“We’ve had a tough time finishing games against Philadelphia and that’s been the issue,” said Spoelstra, whose team will practice in Miami Monday before flying out to play Game 5 at the Wells Fargo Center Tuesday night.
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Saturday in Game 4, the Sixers used a 19-2 run between the end of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth quarter to take the lead from Miami for good.
While Dwyane Wade kept the Heat in it with 12 points on 5 of 10 shooting in the final quarter, Josh Richardson (1 for 3), James Johnson (1 for 3), Hassan Whiteside (1 for 3), Goran Dragic (0 for 3) and Justise Winslow combined for seven points on 3 of 13 shooting. Miami was only 4 of 13 shooting inside the paint in the fourth period as Sixers All-Star center Joel Embiid blocked three shots and made things tough.
Ben Simmons and J.J. Redick, meanwhile, combined for 17 of Philadelphia's 27 points in the final period on 7 of 13 shooting. The Sixers outscored the Heat 16-8 in the paint in the final period.
“Finishing the quarter I think we took two or three quick shots where we didn't get what we really wanted to in our package to make them defend and play that a little bit different,” Spoelstra explained of what happened Saturday. “That allowed them to get some momentum going into the fourth and then they just kept the momentum going. It’s been similar in the other games. We haven't been able to execute even though we've gotten the looks we've wanted. We've had some looks we've missed. They made plays. They made shots going down the stretch.
“Obviously Simmons' two plays down the gut those aren't the plays you're expecting to give up. They have so many other actions that keep you moving and a lot of different triggers that you have to have five guys really dialed in, focused in on.”
In Game 3, it was a similar story for the Heat. Miami shot only 26.3 percent from the field (5 of 19) and 2 of 9 inside the paint in the fourth quarter and was outscored by the Sixers 32-14 in the period.
In all, Philadelphia has outscored the Heat by 42 points in the fourth quarter in the series, the widest margin of any of the eight playoff series heading into Sunday.
The Heat's 40.7 percent field goal percentage in the fourth quarter ranks next to last among all playoff teams. Only the Wizards (40 percent) have been worse.
The Sixers, meanwhile, are shooting 49.4 percent in the fourth quarter in the playoffs and averaging a playoff-best 31.8 points in the final period. During the regular season, the Heat held opponents to 44.1 percent shooting in the fourth quarter (8th best in the league) and 25 points in the final period (tied for fourth-best in the league).
“We need to be smarter,” Goran Dragic said of what the Heat needs to do have success in the fourth quarter. “Our spacing needs to be better. When they blitz us, our other guys need to be available so when we pass it, we need to make the right reads for the open shot or penetration. Everybody needs to be on this train. When they blitz, everybody needs to be in their spots. If we get a ball out of it, it’s much better.”
Dragic is leading the Heat in scoring in the playoffs (19.5 points per game) the same way he did in the regular season (17.3 ppg). He's shooting at a higher percentage (49.2 percent) from the field and three-point range (40.0) than he did in the regular season. But in the fourth quarter in this series his production has slipped. He's only 3 of 11 from the field and 1 of 4 from three-point range for eight points. Part of that has been the Sixers blitzing him on pick and rolls and forcing the ball out of his hands.
Dwyane Wade, who is averaging two more minutes (24.1) and six more points per game (18.0) in this series than he did in the regular season in part because he's shooting 49.1 percent from the field compared to 40.9 percent in the regular season, doesn’t think the Heat is that far off.
“The series hasn’t been as lopsided... I feel like we’re still there, we still have an opportunity,” said Wade, who leads in the Heat in scoring in the fourth quarter (19 points on 8 of 19 shooting 42.9 percent) in the series.
“Our only job is to lick our wounds [Sunday], come back in Monday and prepare for what we need to do when we go to Philly on Tuesday. Then try and get a win and focus on the next one after that. It’s human nature sometimes if a team starts to put it on you and you’re down 3-1 to let it go. All we have to do is worry about this one game and giving it everything we’ve got for that one game. You walk out of that game and you give everything you had, you can live with whatever result is there at the end.”